When you think about natural healing for your dog, doesn’t the idea of “less is more” sound ideal? The idea that you can help him heal without filling his body with toxic chemicals and harmful antibiotics is probably really appealing …
… And that’s why I’ve come to depend on the “less is more” natural healing properties of essential oil hydrosols for my dogs.
What’s A Hydrosol?
A hydrosol is a water-soluble acid solution that’s left over from the process of steam distilling plants to make essential oils. When an essential oil is extracted, the plant material (such as lavender) is exposed to steam. The steam brings out the oils in the plant and together the steam and oil travel to an apparatus that slowly cools them down so they can separate again into oil and water. The essential oil sits on the top of the water so it can be collected. Meanwhile, the leftover water becomes the hydrosol, containing trace amounts (usually less than five percent) of suspended essential oils. Hydrosols also contain plant essences as well as the water-soluble plant matter that essential oils lack.
Why Not Just Use Essential Oils?
When working with dogs, I don’t advocate the use of essential oils internally unless it’s absolutely necessary because we don’t know how they can affect gut flora. There’s some disagreement about the destruction of beneficial bacteria as well as harmful bacteria when the gut is exposed to essential oils.
In most cases, the risks of ingesting essential oils outweigh the benefits because it’s much easier to destroy beneficial bacteria than it is to replace them.
When caring for dogs, most of an essential oil’s benefits can be achieved when the oils are distilled. I also encourage people to avoid using essential oils neat, meaning undiluted. Some holistic practitioners may disagree with this belief, but I come from a place of caution in whatever natural healing methods I use.
Another reason I don’t recommend essential oils is because they’re highly concentrated. For example, one drop of chamomile essential oil is equal to approximately 50 cups of chamomile tea. Because of the level of concentration, dilution is essential for applying essential oils to our furry friends. It will also help avoid dermal sensitization, a type of allergy to a specific substance that continues for years after the initial sensitivity has occurred. Dermal sensitization is common when using essential oils neat, and that’s why the extra caution is so important.[Related: Diluting essential oils is really important. Find out more here]
Many essential oils are unsafe to use on dogs for any reason. It’s important to know that these oils can seriously hurt your dog. These include:
- Sweet birch
- Sweet basil*
- White thyme
*Sweet basil and rosemary shouldn’t be used for dogs with seizures. This caution applies to both the herb and essential oil forms of these plants.
How To Use Hydrosols
Some of my favorite hydrosols are blue chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Blue chamomile hydrosol can help with sore muscles, wound care and calming … and when used internally, it can act as an anti-inflammatory. You can blend hydrosols to make ear washes, insect sprays and body rinses for cleansing and itching. They can also be mixed with therapeutic clays and herbs to synergistically charge a poultice. In some instances they can be taken internally. Every hydrosol has a unique combination of plant material and essential oil content giving them varying pH levels as well as a limited shelf life of six months to a year (this can vary)
Hydrosols In Action
The chamomile and lavender in this spray soothe your dog and help him cope with the stress that can come with a fear of loud noises. It’s also good for fireworks.
- ½ oz neroli (Citrus aurantium) hydrosol
- ½ oz blue chamomile (Matricaria recutita) hydrosol
- 5 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
Mix the ingredients together in a spray bottle. Shake before using and mist your dog when you’re expecting bad weather. Refrigerate for up to six months.[Related: Lavender is perfect for natural calming and itch relief. Find out how to use it here]
Rinse for Irritated Skin
Yarrow hydrosol is safe to use for your dog even though the essential oil is on the canine “do not ever use” list. It’s effective for circulation, congestion in the lungs and irritated skin.
- ½ oz yarrow (Achillea millefolium) hydrosol
- ½ oz tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) hydrosol
- ½ oz witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) hydrosol
- 1 oz apple cider vinegar
- 6 oz distilled water
Mix the ingredients together into a small squeeze bottle and apply to your dog’s skin. Never substitute essential oils for the ingredients in this rinse. Store in the refrigerator for up to four months. For hot spots, substitute 1 oz of lavender hydrosol for the apple cider vinegar. Great for use in the spring and fall as the seasons change.
Poultice for Anal Gland Relief
This is an excellent remedy for sore or impacted anal glands. In this case, the tea tree hydrosol amplifies the healing and disinfecting properties of the poultice.
- 2 Tbsps montmorillonite clay
- 1 oz warm tea tree hydrosol
- ⅛ oz calendula petals
- 1 piece of cheesecloth
Heat tea tree hydrosol in a glass jar set in a water bath until it’s almost hot. Never use a microwave. Slowly add this to the clay until it forms a paste. Use a wooden or plastic spoon to mix. Add calendula petals to the paste and wrap in cheesecloth making a ball. Test the heat of the poultice on your wrist to make sure it’s not too hot. Hold the poultice to the infected area for about 20 minutes. Do this two to three times per day making a fresh poultice each time. This treatment helps disinfect the area and loosen up the impaction so that your dog will naturally expel it when she has a bowel movement. After the impaction has passed, you can continue to use this remedy until the anal area has healed.
When you buy hydrosols, it’s important to check the distillation date and expected shelf life. Ask the manufacturer if they have tested the hydrosols for contamination because hydrosols can easily develop mold and bacteria when improperly prepared. This is why some suppliers add preservatives to their hydrosols. Avoid these companies as they’re producing an inferior product. When handling your hydrosols, avoid touching the inside of the cap and bottle.
Store them in a cool, dark place and refrigerate after opening.
For internal use, dissolve 3 Tbsps of hydrosol into a quart of filtered or distilled water. For every five pounds of body weight, give 2 Tbsps of the mixture, divided into 3 doses per day. An example of this schedule in action would be when I worm my pug Finnbar. I use a mixture of wormwood and clove hydrosol. He weighs 15 pounds so his dosage is 6 Tbsps of the diluted mixture divided into 2 Tbsp dosages given three times in one day. I give this treatment for one week, twice per year.
Essential oils are powerful substances and you must handle them with caution. There’s a misunderstanding that because essential oils come from plants, they’re safe. In fact, the opposite can be true. Every week I hear of people using essential oils internally or applying them directly to their dog’s skin without being diluted. As caregivers, we have to be aware that dogs lick themselves and whatever you put on your dog’s skin will eventually find its way into their body. Hydrosols contain trace amounts of the same beneficial compounds as essential oils. Like homeopathy, hydrosols provide a safe approach to natural healing that you can use to bring your pet back into balance.